Society & Politics

Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus - Lesson 5 Part 1

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Preston Manning, Senior Fellow

This article is the sixth in a series by Preston Manning on leadership lessons from the public life of Jesus. A member of the Canadian House of Commons from 1993 to 2001, founder of two new political parties—the Reform Party of Canada and the Canadian Reform Conservative Allianceand the Leader of the Official Opposition from 1997 to 2000, Preston works with the MI on the development and communication of faith-informed approaches to political leadership and public policy.


Christ-like Wisdom and Grace in Action:
The Wilberforce Campaign to Abolish Slavery
(Part 1 of 2)

In a previous article[1], under the headline of “The Great Guideline”, we examined the key instruction given by Jesus of Nazareth to his earliest followers before he sent them out to do “public work” in his name: “Be wise as serpents and gracious as doves”.

But can this guideline actually be followed faithfully and effectively by Christian believers in the rough and adversarial public arena of politics? In this article we will begin a two-part examination of a most encouraging and instructive example.               

In the long and colourful history of politics within the tradition of British democracy, there is probably not a better example of a campaign conducted with the wisdom of the serpent and the graciousness of the dove than that conducted by William Wilberforce and his associates to eliminate slavery throughout the British Empire.[2]

It was an organized political and spiritual effort to eradicate a great evil, the institution of slavery, and to achieve a great moral good, the freedom of hundreds of thousands of human beings previously held in brutal bondage. There is great benefit therefore in examining it in detail to identify features and principles that will be helpful to Christians today who are involved in combatting great evils and advancing moral causes in the rough and adversarial arena of contemporary politics.

The Campaign

“The Campaign”, as we will refer to it, was a long one. It began in earnest on May 22, 1787 when twelve humble but determined abolitionists met at a print shop at Number 2 George York Street in London and did not fully achieve its objective until 51 years later on August 31, 1838 when nearly 800,000 black slaves throughout the British Empire became legally free.

While the issue it addressed had enormous economic and social implications, at its core was an ethical question—was slavery morally defensible or not? Political campaigns involving moral issues are among the most difficult to successfully manage and conduct, which makes the Wilberforce campaign particularly instructive in that regard.

Of special significance to Christians interested in successfully navigating the faith political interface is the fact that this campaign was directed primarily by people who were personally motivated, guided, and sustained throughout by their Christian faith. Many (though not all) were evangelical Christians, products of the first evangelical awakening in Britain led by John Wesley and George Whitfield.

Key contributors to the campaign included: Granville Sharpe, the legal beagle; Thomas Clarkson, the indefatigable organizer; Hannah More, an intellectual and spiritual leader of the Clapham Circle; Olaudah Equiano, a freed slave whose two volume autobiography[3] bore eloquent witness to the evils of the slave trade; John Newton, the former slave ship master, clergyman, and composer of the hymn Amazing Grace; James Stephen, the lawyer and strategist; and of course, the parliamentarian William Wilberforce[4] and his small band of political colleagues.

This campaign was first and foremost what in our times would be called an “issue” or “advocacy” campaign[5] as distinct from an election campaign. As such, its main objectives were twofold: first, to raise the issue of slavery in the public consciousness and in the political arena so high and insistently that it could not be ignored by the politicians and lawmakers of the day; and second, to raise public support for a particular solution to the issue— i.e. laws to curtail the slave trade and eventually abolish slavery itself—again, so high and insistently that elected officials would be forced by the weight of public opinion to act. The campaign to abolish slavery is therefore highly instructive to those wishing to engage in advocacy campaigns today.

As in many issue campaigns, this campaign had its “forerunners”— people who became exercised about the issue earlier than most and whose efforts to address it, while generally unsuccessful, awakened the consciences of others and paved the way for the success of the latter campaign. In this case, the forerunners included the English Quakers[6] whose opposition to slavery was theologically based and crusaders like Granville Sharp[7] who very early on sought to have slavery curtailed through the courts. Successful issue campaigns recognize their forerunners and seek to integrate their advance work into the latter campaign rather than regarding the forerunners as failures or unwelcome competitors.

The key functions that need to be performed in the conduct of an issue campaign—strategizing, planning, identifying supporters, motivating, coalition building, counteracting opponents, communicating, persuading, fundraising, and mobilizing volunteers—are almost identical to those which must be successfully performed in election campaigns. As a result the skills acquired by those who participated in this campaign placed them in good stead in later campaigns to elect pro-abolition members to the British House of Commons, particularly after the Reform Act of 1832 broadened the franchise and greatly increased the representativeness and power of that chamber.

What then were the noteworthy features and guiding principles of the campaign to abolish slavery from which people today, especially Christians operating at the interface of faith and politics, can learn and benefit? To what extent did this campaign demonstrate adherence to the Great Guideline given by Jesus to his followers in carrying out public work? That is, to what extent were the objectives, tactics, and communications of these faith motivated campaigners “wise”, as shrewd as those of the devil, and “gracious” as the Spirit of God himself?

THE GUIDELINES

1. Choose the Initial Campaign Objective and Strategy Wisely

In issue campaigns of any kind, great care and attention needs to be given to defining the initial campaign objective and the initial strategy for achieving it. If these definitions and choices are unwise or misguided the entire campaign effort may be doomed to failure before it even begins. Launching such campaigns is like launching a canoe. Accidents most frequently occur at the very beginning of the venture— getting into the canoe successfully and pushing off from the shore.

In the case of this campaign, after considerable internal debate, it was wisely decided to proceed incrementally rather than “to go for broke”— to seek first the abolition of the slave trade, the activity that fed the institution of slavery, rather than to immediately seek the abolition of the institution itself. The objective was, as Thomas Clarkson put it, to lay the axe “at the very root” of the tree rather than to immediately try to chop down the tree itself.[8]

Even in our day, let alone in 18th century Britain, if the aim of a campaign is to move public and parliamentary opinion from “A” to “C”, it is usually advisable to first secure support for “B” - a more modest objective than “C” but a move in the right direction.[9] In the case of the Wilberforce campaign, “A” was the status quo which tolerated both slavery and the slave trade; “C” was the ultimate objective of abolishing slavery altogether; but “B” was the more immediately attainable objective of curtailing the slave trade.

With respect to Wilberforce himself, because he was a parliamentarian, he might have been forgiven for adopting a “one track strategy”, namely that of pursuing abolition solely through changes in the law. But instead, wisely as it turned out, Wilberforce personally adopted a “two track strategy” involving both a legal and a social activist approach.

On Sunday, October 28th, 1787, he wrote in his diary: “God Almighty has placed before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [that is, morals].”[10] With respect to the reformation of manners and morals, Wilberforce specifically targeted public and political indifference to the suffering caused by a host of social evils— poverty, the unavailability of education, child labor, the abuse of animals, and prison conditions. He attacked this indifference, not so much by preaching against it, but by launching and supporting numerous volunteer societies and agencies to provide help and service to those suffering the consequences of these evils and to urge changes in related public and private policies.[11]

If Wilberforce and his colleagues had only attacked the slave trade by legislation, and had done nothing to address in visible and practical terms the general indifference to human suffering which was a characteristic of the times, their campaign would have commanded far less public support and been far less effective than it was.

We, in addressing the social evils of our times, must be careful not to make the most frequent mistake of religious moralists and political legalists in addressing a moral issue, that is to immediately focus on declaring moral or legal principles and prescriptions while doing little to offer personal and practical service to those afflicted by the social ills we are seeking to redress.

For example, a Christian response in Canada to the growing demands for amendments to the Criminal Code to facilitate assisted suicide cannot be only a legal response (opposing such amendments and/or proposing legislative alternatives), important as such a response may be. To be effective after the manner of Wilberforce the response must be a legal response and…. And what? Wilberforce would likely propose a vast increase in Christian sympathy, ministry, and service to those facing the end of life through a great expansion of our support and involvement in the provision of palliative and hospice care.

2. Seize the High Moral Ground by First Strongly Identifying with the Suffering to Be Alleviated

This strategic guideline is quite similar to that just described. But the principle on which it is based is so important to the proper positioning of campaigns to address moral and ethical issues that it bears restating in a slightly different form.

The initial stages of the campaign to abolish slavery were characterized in the political arena, not so much by preaching against the evils of slavery and the slave trade, but by publicizing and empathizing with the suffering that those institutions created. For example:

  • By publicizing the horrors of the Zong case (a slave ship whose captain threw 136 slaves into the sea and whose owners filed an insurance claim for the value of the dead slaves).[12]
  • By confronting members of Parliament and attendees at public meetings with the actual chains and shackles used to bind slaves to their stations on the trans-Atlantic voyage.
  • By arranging tours for members of Parliament along the docks where the slave ships were moored so that they could smell for themselves the stench of death which clung to them.
  • By publishing the logs of slave ship doctors and the accounts of escaped slaves themselves telling of the indescribable horrors of life and death on the slave ships.

People suffering from the operation of evil institutions and practices have an understandable right to say to those proposing the reform of those institutions and practices: “We don’t care how much you know about this— religiously or legally—until we know how much you care. Show us, don’t just tell us, how much you care.”

The Sermon on the Mount was effective because the sermonizer was not some distant moralizer but deity incarnate embedded and active in alleviating pain and sorrows in the lives of those whom he addressed. Jesus got his moral authority in the eyes of the common people, a moral authority that exceeded that of the teachers of the law, by actively identifying and empathizing with the suffering of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the oppressed. 

Therefore, for example, it is those who can demonstrate—by personal empathy and acts of care—that they truly care about those facing end-of-life situations who will be most listened to and respected when it comes to deciding what public policies and laws should apply to those situations.

3. Reframe the Issue to Position It within a Conceptual Framework Best Suited to Advancing the Campaign

When engaging in any political debate, you may often find yourself debating initially within a hostile conceptual framework defined primarily by your opponents (or often, in our day, by prejudiced and unsympathetic media). Under such circumstances, your chances of winning the debate are slim unless you can “reframe the issue” to the advantage of your cause. This may involve directly challenging the old conceptual framework as inadequate and if possible replacing it with one in which your arguments and cause have a better chance of succeeding.

In the case of the campaign to abolish slavery and the slave trade, the abolitionists had little chance of swaying public opinion or winning the argument for abolition as long as slaves were merely considered to be “property”. Within that framework, any debate on the pros and cons of slavery would be mainly focused on the economics not the morality or inhumanity of slavery—the financial benefits of sustaining it and the financial costs of limiting or abolishing it. Within that context it could be argued that the death of slaves being transported by the slave ships to America was simply a “property loss” that could be (and was) insurable; that any curtailment of slavery would do great damage to British trade and commerce and the livelihood of those dependent upon it; and that the abolition of slavery would constitute a massive and prohibitively expensive confiscation of property.

Therefore, the abolitionists from the very outset of their campaign sought to shift the public and parliamentary perception of slaves from “property”— which could be bought, sold, used, and abused as economic objects—to “human beings” who deserved to be recognized, appreciated, and treated as such.

This attempt to shift the public perception of slaves was carried out by a variety of tactics such as identifying slaves by name, publishing their horrific personal stories, and bringing parliamentarians and public opinion leaders into direct contact with freed slaves such as Olaudah Equiano. Josiah Wedgewood, the pottery manufacturer, aided the cause in this regard by producing a special line of china showing a kneeling African with chains uplifted and beseechingly asking “Am I not a man and a brother?”[13]

4. Move the Debate, if Possible, into the Decision-making Arena Most Conducive to Success.

Just as it is often prudent in a political debate to shift the conceptual framework within which it occurs to one more favorable to the cause, so it is also often necessary to try to change the arena— the venue in which the requisite policy decisions and legal actions must occur—in order to have a better chance of securing the desired outcome. 

In 18th century Britain, the House of Lords, not the House of Commons, was the dominant parliamentary chamber. The Lords were appointed by the Crown rather than elected by the people and were therefore less susceptible to influence by public opinion and more susceptible to influence by powerful special interests such as the pro-slavery lobby.

As a result, it was very much in the interests of the abolitionists to get the slavery issue debated and decided in the House of Commons whose members they could influence by swaying the views of their electors. The abolitionists were therefore generally supportive of any reform which strengthened the Commons at the expense of the Lords. It was significant that the legislation which put the final nail in slavery’s coffin was not passed until after the passage of the Reform Bill of 1832 which significantly strengthened the power and representativeness of the Commons by broadening the franchise.

In our day, the success of a particular issue campaign may likewise depend in part on how successful the campaigners are in shifting the debate and the decision-making on the issue to the arena most favorable to it. If the legislators are indifferent or hostile to an issue or a particular policy for addressing it, there may be merit in trying to shift the debate and decision to the courts, or vice versa.[14] In Canada where there are ten provincial legislatures and governments, there is often merit in determining which provincial jurisdiction provides the most favourable climate for advancing an issue and its solution and beginning the issue campaign there in order to achieve some initial success.

5. Build a Principled Coalition to Advance the Cause

In Wilberforce’s day there was not nearly the “party discipline” that exists in many of the Commonwealth parliaments and legislatures (such as those of Canada or Australia) today. In the early days of the anti-slavery campaign, William Pitt, the Prime Minister and Wilberforce’s close friend, personally opposed the slave trade and supported Wilberforce’s resolutions. But this in itself did not guarantee majority or government support in parliament.

Wilberforce therefore had to build a “coalition of support”, both outside and inside the parliament, for his legislative proposals. His coalition consisted of those who may have disagreed on many points but were agreed on the principle that slavery and the slave trade were evils to be resisted and eradicated. As much as they also held differing views on how to go about this, they also came to agree that the immediate objective should be to abolish the slave trade and were willing to work together to achieve that specific objective. 

It is also important to note that the coalition to abolish the slave trade was a “principled coalition” as distinct from a “coalition of expediency”. Participants in coalitions of expediency generally participate out of short run self-interest or purely “to oppose for opposing’s sake.” Such coalitions have little capacity for moral suasion with others who do not share those interests or the opposition mentality. On the other hand, coalitions founded on principle, demanding self-sacrifice from their members and adherents, and ultimately committed to pursuing a positive and principled objective (such as the liberation of slaves), have a moral authority that places them in good stead when endeavoring to persuade others of the worthiness of their cause.

Wilberforce once wrote that the “bringing together (of) … men who are likeminded and who may at some time or other combine … for the public good” is a principle “of first rate importance.”He has been described as a “bridge builder who would work with anyone in pursuit of common philanthropic goals”.[15] And indeed, ironically in the end, his abolition bill, which did not pass during the administration of his friend Prime Minister Pitt, finally passed under the short lived administration of Lord Grenville, who was never a strong ally of Wilberforce, with the influential support of Charles Fox[17] who had originally opposed abolition.

If there are two skills absolutely essential to political success today—and especially essential to the conduct of issue campaigns with moral and ethical dimensions—one of them is the skill of communication. But the other is the skill of coalition building, which requires us to recognize our forerunners, identify potential coalition partners, define the principled common ground on which they can be induced to work together, and then use our powers of persuasion to get them to work together for the common cause.

6. Legitimate the Discussion, Graciously

When Wilberforce was first elected at the tender age of 21[16] there was an unspoken but very strong agreement among members of Parliament not to raise the subject of slavery in parliament at all; to do so was “taboo”.[19]This was not because the members were slaveholders themselves but because many, particularly in the House of Lords, personally profited from the slave trade and the colonial plantations and enterprises it supplied. In addition, most members of Parliament were uncomfortable with the moral aspects of slavery and the political ramifications of debating it. They therefore preferred that the subject not be raised or discussed at all.

So the first challenge for Wilberforce and his associates became one of “legitimating the discussion” of the issue of slavery in a democratic chamber where even the mention of the word was unwelcome. To meet this challenge required both the wisdom of the serpent and the graciousness of the dove, and Wilberforce’s approach demonstrated both.

As a passionate Christian moralist, Wilberforce was undoubtedly tempted and urged to ride into the House on a white horse, denouncing slavery as an abomination from hell, castigating anyone profiting from it as being in league with the devil, and calling for the immediate and total destruction of the institution of slavery and all its works. But he was warned— perhaps by that still small voice of the Spirit of the dove within, but also most likely by Pitt the Shrewd —that if he took such a course the overwhelming reaction of the House would be negative and it would be years before the subject of slavery could be raised in that chamber again.

Note therefore the innocuous wording of the initial resolution whereby Wilberforce proposed to legitimate the discussion of slavery in the British House of Commons: “That the House will, early in the next session, , proceed to take into consideration the circumstances of the slave trade”[17].

The wording of this resolution is about as inoffensive as it was possible to make it, and we can just imagine the angry reaction of the moral zealots in the abolitionist camp when they first saw the draft:

“What kind of an insipid, mealy mouthed resolution is this? With respect to timing, you defer to the convenience of the House when the urgent and inconvenient truth is that men, women, and children are dying daily in slavery? You ask the House to merely take the issue into ‘consideration’ when it is bold action that is required. You meekly ask the House to merely take into consideration ‘the circumstances’ of the slave trade when what should be demanded is the immediate and complete abolition of slavery itself and everything connected with it.”

And yet the wisdom of Wilberforce’s approach to “legitimating the discussion” became apparent in retrospect as the subject of his resolution was grudgingly accepted. Thus began, however modestly, the long debate that eventually led to the total abolition of the slave trade and slavery itself within British territory.[18]

7. Do the Necessary Research Thoroughly and Well

In seeking to advance an issue with moral dimensions to it in the public arena—an issue where your own position and zeal for the cause is rooted in deeply held, emotion stirring convictions and experiences—it is tempting to believe that such convictions, emotions, and zeal will be sufficient to carry the day with others. But wisdom and experience suggest that mastering the facts surrounding the issue is equally important, which means doing your research and doing it thoroughly and well.

The abolitionists working with Wilberforce were zealous for the cause and their zeal was rooted in convictions and experiences that stirred and energized them emotionally; but they didn’t rely exclusively on these elements in communicating their cause. They also meticulously and assiduously armed themselves with “the facts” and this required research—exhaustive, thorough, and comprehensive research.

It involved researching the existing laws and policies affecting slavery and the trade; documenting evidence from slave ship crews, ships’ doctors, and slaves themselves as to the death toll and terrible conditions that characterized the voyage from Africa to America; researching and dissecting the interests and arguments of the pro-slavery lobby and their parliamentary allies; and constantly monitoring public attitudes and shifts in public sentiment[19] over the long course of the campaign.

If there was one area where the research and preparation of the campaign to abolish slavery was deficient until late in the day, it was with respect to the tactics involved in securing support for a controversial bill in the British parliament. Wilberforce was an idealist, an excellent communicator, and a tireless worker, but he was not a tactician. He understood the broad arena—the public square where public opinion in support of abolition had to be stimulated and shaped—but he was not particularly adept at managing the passage of an initially unpopular bill through the narrower, specialized arena of the House of Commons, nor does it appear that he had anyone in his immediate parliamentary circle who was expert and shrewd in this regard.

Eventually this deficiency would be remedied by the involvement of James Stephens, one of the Empire’s leading maritime lawyers, a prominent authority on international law with tactical sense and expertise, and one who had a visceral hatred of slavery born out of living in the West Indies. But for many years the abolitionists were repeatedly outfoxed in the House by their anti-abolition opponents and Wilberforce’s abolition bills were to suffer many defeats before he and his colleagues were able to match and then outwit their opponents at the tactical level.

Knowing their own cause, knowing their opponents, knowing their audiences, and eventually coming to know the intricacies of the decision making arena were essential elements of the campaign to abolish slavery, just as they are essential to any successful advocacy campaign today. Exhaustive, thorough, and comprehensive research is essential to securing such knowledge and being able to act upon it.

Implications for Us

There is a need for advocacy campaigns today—campaigns to raise important issues and remedies so high and insistently in the public consciousness and political arena that they cannot be ignored by politicians and lawmakers and so that public decision makers will be forced by the weight of public opinion to act.

Some of the most important of those campaigns will involve moral issues engaging faith oriented citizens at the faith-political interface, for example:

  • Campaigns to combat the terrible resurgence of human slavery in our time, in particular the global sex trade with internet communicated pornography as its marketing arm.
  • Campaigns to establish and communicate what “death with dignity” means for faith oriented people and to create safe and spiritually sensitive hospice and palliative care environments where state sanctioned euthanasia and physician assisted suicide are neither promoted nor practiced.
  • Campaigns to establish ethically based laws and regulatory regimes to deal with beginning of life issues from assisted human reproduction and abortion to the genetic modification of human beings.
  • Campaigns to awaken and mobilize faith oriented citizens to the challenges of creation care, environmental stewardship, and the voluntary constraint of consumerism as spiritual responsibilities.
  • Campaigns to reorganize and strengthen the charitable sector of civil society as a partner and/or alternative to the welfare state in providing care and services to the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, and the elderly.

In the Wilberforce campaign just examined we have a great example of a faith-oriented campaign to eradicate a great social evil and achieve a great social good conducted by people operating with the wisdom of serpents and the graciousness of doves at the interface of faith and politics. Those of us who want to conduct or participate in such campaigns today to eradicate the social evils of our time and advance worthy social causes should study this campaign backward and forward and apply the lessons it teaches.

Let us make asking and answering the question “Is it wise and is it gracious?” the two-fold acid test to be applied to any strategy, tactic, or communication of any faith oriented campaign with which we are associated. More specifically, learning from Wilberforce and his associates, let us:

  • Choose the initial campaign objective and strategy wisely.
  • Seize the high moral ground by first strongly identifying with the suffering to be alleviated.
  • Reframe the issue, if necessary, to place it within the conceptual framework best suited to advancing the campaign objective and strategy.
  • Move the debate, if possible, into the decision-making arena most conducive to success.
  • Legitimate the discussion, graciously.
  • Do the necessary research thoroughly and well.

I will say more in the next article in this series on further lessons and principles to be drawn from the Wilberforce campaign and their implications for those of us engaged today in issue campaigns at the faith-political interface.



[1] Faith and Politics: Leadership Lessons from the Public Life of Jesus: Lesson 4, The Great Guideline: Wise as Serpents and Gracious as Doves; http://marketplace.regent-college.edu/ideas-media/society-politics/leadership-lessons-from-the-public-life-of-jesus---lesson-4

[2] While there is a large body of documentation and literature on this subject, for the purposes of this article I have relied mainly on, and quoted extensively from, three fairly recent sources to whose authors we are deeply indebted

  • Kevin Belmonte, William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002)
  • Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005)
  • Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (New York: Harper Collins, 2007) 

[3]Equiano, Olaudah (2013). The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or “The African” in The Norton Anthology of American Literature (New York: W.W. Norton & Company).

[4]For an excellent movie depicture of the Wilberforce campaign, see Amazing Grace, 2007, starring Ioan Gruffudd, Albert Finney, et al; directed by Michael Apted

[5]My own experience with modern issue campaigns, which to some extent informs my perspective on the Wilberforce anti-slavery campaign, comes primarily from my involvement in Canadian federal politics. The three most prominent of the issue campaigns in which I was personally involved were: (1) A successful campaign to defeat the Charlottetown Constitutional Accord (a proposal to amend the constitution of Canada in ways which my colleagues and I deemed unfavorable to western Canada and national unity), conducted within the context of a national referendum on the issue initiated by the Government of Canada in 1992. (2) A successful campaign, from 1987-1998, to force the Government of Canada to balance its budget; (3) A long running, but unsuccessful campaign from 1987 – 2014 to reform the Senate of Canada. The ethical or moral dimension of each of these campaigns centered around “fairness” – inter-generational fairness in the case of the budget campaign, and regional fairness in the case of the Charlottetown and Senate campaigns.

[6] “The Religious Society of Friends" began as a movement in England in the mid 17th century in Northern England. Members are informally known as Quakers, as they were said "to tremble in the way of the Lord." The movement in its early days faced strong opposition and persecution, but it continued to expand across the British Isles and then in the Americas and Africa …. Quakers have been a significant part of the movements for the abolition of slavery, to promote equal rights for women, and peace.” From Wikipedia.

[7] Granville Sharp, a committed Christian (Anglican) who held a minor post in the Ordinance office in the Tower of London, was an eccentric genius of diverse talents and enormous energy which he increasingly devoted to the cause of abolishing slavery. See Hochschild, 41-48

[8] Ibid., 110

[9] This is particularly true in Canada, where our tendency is to always seek for a middle way rather than taking the shortest and most direct route to the objective. Why did the Canadian cross the road? To get to the middle.

[10] Kevin Belmonte, William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 97

[11] The “little platoons” as Edward Burke called such instrumentalities and what today we call the instruments of civil society.

[12] Hochschild, 79-80

[13] Ibid., 128-29

[14] In Canada this tactic may even be used by governments who command majority support in their legislature. Canadian legislators, for example, are often very reluctant to deal with polarizing moral issues such as abortion, same sex marriage, or euthanasia. So rather than tackle such issues in the legislature and run the risk of dividing their own caucuses, they may refer the matter to the courts. This may be done directly, but also indirectly by passing a bill addressing the issue but deliberately neglecting to state clearly the intent of legislature in passing it, so that ultimately the courts will be called upon to “fill in the blanks”.

[15] Belmonte, 167

[17] Fox was not only an initial opponent of the abolition effort, he was “internationally known for his immoral and rakish behaviour” and for encouraging the Prince of Wales (the future king) in his “outrageously dissolute lifestyle”. (Metaxas, 31) His eventual acceptance into the Wilberforce coalition indicates the extent to which its members had to bury their differences, not only over policy matters, but also with respect to each other’s lifestyles –all for the sake of the greater cause.

[16] Note the youthfulness of some of the key leaders of the campaign. Wilberforce was 21 when first elected to parliament. Pitt became Prime Minister at 24. Thomas Clarkson was a 25 year-old Cambridge student when he first became engaged.

[17] A contemporary equivalent would be trying to raise the issue of abortion in the Canadian parliament which considers the issue “taboo”.

[17] Manning Centre for Building Democracy Archive, copy of correspondence with British House of Commons re: Wilberforce’s 1788 resolution.

[18] Wilberforce became seriously ill just before his resolution was to be presented to parliament, so it was his friend Pitt the Prime Minister, that began the debate. When Wilberforce himself was able to participate, the wisdom and graciousness of his first resolution was further reflected in the tone and wording of his first speech to the House on that subject: “I mean not to accuse anyone, but to take the shame upon myself, indeed, with the whole Parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty – we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame upon others ….”

[19] Abraham Lincoln, in his references to moving the public on an issue, tended to stress the need to appeal to “public sentiment”—the need to take into account what the pubic is “feeling”—rather than focusing on “public opinion ”(i.e. what the public is “thinking”) as we are more apt to do today. The Wilberforce campaign to abolish slavery researched “the facts” but it primarily aimed its communication of them at the hearts of the British public not just their heads. 

Source: Marketplace Institute



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